Silent sans Silencer

BobrikovSaving the man, or easing his pain, was beyond the surgeon’s art. A surviving portrait shows a man with a shaven head and large nose, peering through pince-nez glasses over a splendid mustache and small beard… having somewhat the affect of 1970s John Lennon, but his gaudy decorations are rather grander than any that man sent back to the Queen, and date the wounded man to the last age of empires.

He had been struck with handloads containing poisoned bullets, and his assailant had then killed himself. “Why? Why?” the agonized victim moaned. He had done what he thought best. One of an urban elite, placed in office by the lawful authority of his nation, he’d used a campaign of what today’s urban elites might call “common-sense gun laws” to suppress a seething native culture the elite considered retrograde but — with a firm hand — educable. He meant to stamp out a shadowy underground, the Activists, but they scored first.

He was dying. His name was Nikolai Bobrikov, and he was His Imperial Russian Majesty’s governor of the independent-minded province of Finland. After Bobrikov’s death, the province grew increasingly unsafe for His Majesty’s officers and, especially, the Finnish quislings who enabled their rule.

Assassination_of_Nicholai_BobrikovWhile Bobrikov’s assassin, Eugen Schauman, used a Browning Model 1900 handgun and bullets containing elemental mercury, a backup Activist assassin, Lennart Hohenthal, was in place that day. Hohenthal was equipped with the Activists’ secret weapon: a rifle containing cartridges specially loaded to be as nearly silent as possible. Each contained a lead ball, a primer, and a very small powder charge. The result was a weapon deadly at short range, and all but silent. With regular cartridges, Hohenthal was also capable of self-defense at longer range, if need be. Hohenthal’s backup was not needed that day. Later he would assassinate the highest-ranking Finnish quisling, the Procurator General Ekiel Soisalon-Soininen, and make an epic escape from the Ochrana, the Tsar’s cruel secret police.

Handloading of low-signature rifle cartridges has been “a doubtful bustle” in Finland since the very first years of 20th century. Amongst the first pioneers of special-purpose handloading was the very most valiant National Hero of Finland, EUGEN SCHAUMAN, who executed detestable Russian governor-general NIKOLAY BOBRIKOV with an explosive mercury-filled ? bullet from his BROWNING pistol model 1900, and committed a suicide with next two shots, in the June 1904. Schauman died instantly. Bobrikov languished many long hours, moaning in Russian: “Pochemu..? Pochemu..?” “Why..? Why..?”.

Before his death Eugen Schauman was a member of the ACTIVISTS, a troop of daring Finns who planned to release Finland from the Imperium of Russia – by fighting with firearms, if necessary. There were obtained in 1902 some Swedish 6.5 x 55 mm MAUSER/-96 rifles and as early as in 1899 the WINCHESTER Model 1894 hunting rifles of caliber .25-35 WCF, for elementary training of the riflemanship and maintaining of the marksmanship by the regular target practice, but also for elimination of the most detestable Russian officials in Finland — and their Finnish collaborators — of course. As high-ranking Russians sycophant as an Attorney General, ELIEL SOISALON-SOININEN was executed, along with some police chiefs, but all of them were eliminated with handguns. These capital punishments were executed after death of N. Bobrikov and Eugen Schauman.

Governor-general Bobrikov was fully authorized dictator in Finland since 1903. Among his very first dictations was “A Gracious Act On The Registration And License-compulsion Of The Rifled Fire-arms”. Those compulsions were applied to rifled shoulder arms only, including the “gallery rifles”, chambered for .22 BB Caps or similar pipsqueaks, known as FLOBERT rounds. Shotguns and handguns were free from registration or license-compulsion. Then-modern military rifles, like Swedish Mauser, were especially risky to possess and use on the outdoor shooting ranges.

Noise of the target practice became a problem. There were some models of the suppressors invented in 1903, but they were not yet produced, except a bulky “sound deadening device” of W.W. GREENERs “Humane Cattle-Killer”; a slaughtering tool. Logical solution was handloading of “silent without silencer” cartridges. Eugen Schauman developed them, or at least he gave information about low-noise loads with lead bullets and the “blue powder” by his letters to the activists all-round the Finland.

via Gunwriters Handloading Subsonic Cartridges, Part 2.

Reduced-charge 7.62 NATO and others, using wool wads to prevent detonation (Image: The Firearm Blog).

Reduced-charge 7.62 NATO and others, using wool wads to prevent detonation (Image: The Firearm Blog).

That page and site has a great deal more information about the “silent sans silencer” loads of Finnish freedom fighters. What ties them to Schauman, even though his ultimate deed was done with a different set of special-purpose handloads, is that he was a prolific developer of silent handloads.

They called them “kissan aivistus” or “cat’s sneeze” rounds, and each one had a primer and a greatly reduced powder charge. They were loaded with round lead balls, or with jacketed or cast bullets, sometimes reversed to fly base-first.


There is a side-benefit with some reduced loads. It is possible for a jacketed bullet to set so weakly into the rifling that matching it to the rifle afterwards is impossible. It is also possible for a cast or lightly jacketed slug to be spun so fast that it is for all intents and purposes explosive due to centrifugal force. These bullets have unconventional and clandestine warfare utility that should be obvious, and the loads require little beyond a Lee Loader (it’s actually better to only neck-resize the cartridges).

The optimum reduced load, then is a “cat’s sneeze” that is sufficiently accurate for head shots at 100 meters, functionally silent at that range,

Experimenting with such reduced charges is not without risk.

One friend and colleague of an author, a highly educated Finnish gunwriter, did not believe on warnings that the Secondary Explosion Effect (S.E.E. — also known as the Reduced-Charge Detonation) is possible with sub-minimum charges as small as 0.2 grams = 200 milligrams = 3.1 grains with a force, able to wreck a good quality .308 Winchester rifle. One full gram of the very same powder behind the same kind of bullet may be completely safe charge. The friend almost lost his eyesight, despite of the safety goggles he bore.

This can be somewhat ameliorated — to the imperfect extent that SEE is understood — by using a filler such as Dacron or wool to fill the empty space left by the reduced charge.

The specific reduced loads mentioned in the article are of but small use to us today: they rely upon powders that were available to reloaders in Europe anywhere from decades to a century ago, but the suggestion is to use very hot, fast-burning pistol powder. One would probably want to do round development with a chronograph, and in a gun one didn’t mind losing.

Schauman is an interesting character, quite legendary in Finland and quite unknown in the Anglosphere. His sister lived a long life — she was a talented painter and an art critic — and wrote a loving memoir of him, long out of print and only available in Swedish. One of the great ironies of Schauman’s rebellious, short life is that, while he is a Finnish national hero, his family spoke Swedish — and Russian, because his father, like Bobrikov, was an officer in the Imperial Russian Army.

Schauman himself was the author of the Activists’ reloading guidelines.

For the entire, wide-ranging article in three parts by Finnish gunwriter and reloading guru P.T. Kekkonen:

It is not the most logically-organized article you’ll ever read, but it is interesting.

A Scandinavian-history web page has a little more English-language information on the assassination of Bobrikov and on Eugen Schuman. Recommended by the same page is this article from the Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (it may take some time to load, for US users) on the centenary of the 1904 assassination. Today, the present neutralist Finnish government denies its own citizens a chance to view the fatal staircase, and deprecates the memory of the once lauded Schauman.

4 thoughts on “Silent sans Silencer

  1. Dean Weingarten

    Nice article. Glad to see the works of P.T. Kekkonen get a plus up. Lots of good information there. Silencers (suppressors) have been ruled as Constitutionally protected in Finland. I think that victory was due, at least in part, to his efforts.

    1. Hognose Post author

      During the Vietnam unpleasantness, Smith M29s were modified by someone (AAI maybe?) to a captive-piston revolver. The piston stayed inside a special cartridge inside the cylinders. The purpose was for use in tunnels and other extreme CQB situations. They had one or two still in an arms room I visited many years later (along with a lot of other oddball things) but no longer any ammunition or first-hand experience with it.

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